Q: My co-workers are always planning birthday lunches and potlucks and get together after work.  I really hate that stuff.  I just want to do my job and go home.  How do I tell them without seeming like a jerk?

A:  That is a tough situation.  It sounds like big crowds or even not so big crowds and group situations are really uncomfortable for you.  It’s hard to gauge exactly how to advise you not knowing more about the group dynamics, but here are a few things to think about. 

Do you have a good relationship with your team?  If so, tell them that the team outings drain your energy and make you uncomfortable, not because you don’t like them, but because you are just wired that way. 

If your relationship with the team is not so good, think about finding ways to bond with individuals one on one, invite someone to coffee or lunch.  Start to build relationships one at a time and talk to people one on one about not liking group environments.  If even the thought of spending a lunch with a co-worker is tough for you – think about starting with a small step of stopping to chit chat for a few minutes in the hall or at someone’s desk.  It may not feel natural, but it can be a good start to building relationship.  Relationships aren’t built just in large prolonged gatherings, even a friendly and short hallway conversation can contribute to building and fostering relationships.

While even meeting for coffee or lunch may feel like a waste of time because you really just want to do your work and go home, the reality is that if you are truly on a team, your success will depend on building relationships with that team.  As you ask your team to be flexible with you and allow you to opt out of group activities, you will also need to offer a flex to build some relationship with team members so you are still a valuable part of the group.

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